(This is my review of the new Aziz Ansari stand-up special on Netflix. I posted it on my letterboxd account, but decided to dump it on here as well, why the hell not?)
I’ve been an admirer of Ansari for years, but I was initially not interested in watching this. Not because I was “mad” at Ansari, or was trying to put on a self-righteous display of allyship. It was mainly because I was just exhausted reading about the whole thing. Weeks before this even came out there was no shortage of editorial hot-takes. All the media outlets (and comments sections) regurgitating the same rhetoric, and questioning whether Ansari had sufficiently learned his lesson, or should be “given a platform”. These think pieces only increased after the special’s release. Observing all this performative posturing is draining. It just made me feel like there was a negativity surrounding this, and I didn’t want to deal with it.
Anyway, a week ago my sister told me that this was good and that I should watch it. I was hanging out at her place last night and she put it on. I’m glad she did. What a solid, thoughtful, and hilarious return. One of the other things I was nervous about with this was the aesthetics of it all. I sometimes think Ansari goes a bit too De Sica with his production for his own good, but Spike Jonze did a fantastic job. It’s visually refined and confident, but isn’t at all distracting or showy. Ansari’s material is pretty fantastic in this. The jokes are really solid, and I appreciated the overall message of the set.
I think he maybe spends a little too much time discussing pop culture/historical revisionism. I personally don’t think it’s necessary (or interesting) to discuss “problematic” plot devices, especially within a comedic context. On that same note, I also don’t see the point of asking an audience (being recorded, in public view) if they’re “done” with certain artists/public figures. We all have unique and complicated personal relationships with art that may or may not be made by “shitty” people. To put people in the position where they need to publicly draw a line in the sand is counterproductive. That said, I still appreciated the bigger picture he was getting at. Slight pandering aside, I think Ansari did a wonderful job. He makes the audience think about their own clumsy participation in woke culture without being a defensive edgelord. The tone is just right. Even though he’s discussing ways in which we are polarized as a community, it feels uplifting and hopeful.